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Toxic Mold - FAQ

These frequently asked questions (FAQ) address personal injury issues resulting from mold, exposure, health effects, and liability. To learn more, make sure to check out our mold overview page.

What is mold?

Molds are a type of fungus. Mold is a natural component of both outdoor and indoor air. However, when molds germinate and grow, they can produce large amounts of spores. When these spores land on damp areas indoors, they may begin growing. Growth can happen in areas that are not readily visible, such as between furniture and walls, or inside drywall. You can control indoor mold growth by controlling the moisture in your home.

No one knows how many species of fungi exist. Estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps three hundred thousand or more. Molds grow best in warm, damp, and humid conditions, and spread and reproduce by making spores. Mold spores can survive harsh environmental conditions, such as dry locations, that do not support normal mold growth. Common molds include:

  • Cladosporium
  • Penicillium
  • Alternaria
  • Aspergillus

What types of mold are considered "toxic" mold?

Stachybotrys chartarum, also known as Stachybotrys atra, is one of many types of black mold that may grow on water-damaged building materials. This mold requires a lot of water or moisture to grow, so finding it indoors indicates some significant moisture accumulation problems. It only grows on materials with high fiber and low nitrogen content, such as:

  • Paper (including wallpaper and the paper covering of gypsum wallboard)
  • Wood or jute (frequently used for the backing of older carpets)

This mold does not grow on shower tile or plastic. In the outdoor environment, it is found in soil, rotting hay, and leaf debris. This mold, among others, may produce mycotoxins - chemicals that discourage the growth of other microorganisms and that may also cause health problems in people.

What are mycotoxins?

While they are growing, some molds produce metabolic products that discourage or prevent bacteria or other fungi from growing in the same area. When those metabolic products also cause health problems in animals or humans, they are called mycotoxins (myco = fungal origin). Mycotoxins are natural products from molds that may cause a toxic response in vertebrates when small amounts are eaten, inhaled, or touched. 

Molds that are capable of generating toxins (called "toxigenic mold") do not produce them in every situation. Scientists believe that certain very specific conditions must be present for a toxigenic mold to actually produce toxins. These include a combination of:

  • Temperature
  • Moisture
  • Type of material (food source) the mold is growing on

Where are molds found? 

Molds are found in virtually every environment and can be detected, both indoors and outdoors, year-round. Mold growth is encouraged by warm and humid conditions. Outdoors they can be found in shady, damp areas or places where vegetation is decomposing. Indoors they can be found where humidity levels are high, such as basements or showers.

Areas especially susceptible to toxic mold exposure include:

  • Antique shops
  • Greenhouses
  • Saunas
  • Farms
  • Mills
  • Construction areas
  • Flower shops
  • Summer cottages

Property owners who manage these places may have liability to their guests for toxic mold exposure.

How does mold affect people? Is it harmful to health?

Over the past several years, concern has arisen that elevated levels of mold spores in indoor living or working environments may increase the risk of adverse health effects, particularly respiratory problems.

Some people are sensitive to mold. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions. 

Severe reactions may occur among workers exposed to large amounts of mold in occupational settings, such as farmers working around moldy hay, and may include memory loss, fever, and shortness of breath. Some people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.

Some molds have a greater potential to be harmful than others. Studies have shown that mold exposure can trigger allergic reactions, asthma, and respiratory difficulties. In people with weakened immune systems, symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Severe nasal and sinus congestion
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Skin rashes or severe irritation

How can people decrease mold exposure? 

Sensitive individuals should avoid areas that are likely to have molds, such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas. Inside homes, mold growth can be slowed by keeping humidity levels between 40% and 60%, and ventilating showers and cooking areas. If there is mold growth in your home, you should clean up the mold and fix the water problem. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with:

  • Commercial products
  • Soap and water
  • A weak bleach solution (1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water)

The following are some specific recommendations for decreasing mold exposure:

  • Maintain the humidity level in the house between 40% and 60%
  • Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months
  • Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans
  • Add mold inhibitors to paints before application
  • Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products
  • Do not carpet bathrooms and basements
  • Remove or replace previously soaked carpets and upholstery

I found mold growing in my home. How do I test the mold? 

Reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established. There are currently no tests available through commercial laboratories to determine if mold toxins are present in the air or on surfaces in a home or workplace. Test methods that are currently available are used for research purposes and are not applicable to home or workplace situations.

Decisions to clean up mold and precautions to take during the clean-up process do not require knowledge about the presence of mycotoxins. If there is visible mold or a moldy odor in a room, then there is a mold problem that needs to be addressed.

There are no laboratory tests of blood, urine, or other body components that can determine if a person has been exposed to mold mycotoxins. Blood can be tested for antibodies to some specific types of fungi. However, these tests only determine if a person who has become allergic to fungi has been exposed recently to that specific type of fungus. Allergy tests cannot determine if a person has been exposed to fungal toxins.

Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of disease most often associated with molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. 

If you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk. No matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal.

How can mold be eliminated indoors?

There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment. The best way to inhibit indoor mold growth is to control moisture. There are a few steps that can be followed to reduce the amount of mold or prevent it from growing:

  • It is important to dry areas and items affected by water damage within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
  • If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess water or moisture.
  • You should fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water.
  • Be sure to wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
  • Absorbent materials that become moldy, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be replaced.
  • In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install carpeting. This includes near drinking fountains, close to classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation.
  • Reduce indoor humidity to decrease mold growth by: venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; using air conditioning and de-humidifiers; increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.

Very serious cases involving extensive presence of mold may require mold remediation by companies that specialize in the process.

Who is liable for a mold infestation? Have there been any lawsuits over toxic mold?

Many homeowners who experience significant damage to their homes or health problems have received large jury verdicts and settlements. Many personal injury claims have been settled in the million-dollar range.

For example, in Delaware, a landlord was held liable for more than a million dollars because he negligently did not fix water leaks in the apartment, which resulted in the growth of toxic mold and health problems for tenants. In California, a contractor's poor construction caused water leaks that contributed to the growth of mold, causing serious health problems for property owners. The verdict was more than a million dollars.

Still Have Questions About Mold and Mold Claims? Speak With an Attorney

If you or liable parties have an insurance or warranty policy, you may file a personal injury and/or property damage claim directly with an insurance company. If insurance is not available, is subject to disclaimers, or the insurance company denies a claim, you may need to file a lawsuit in court. Mold attorneys handle personal injury cases involving toxic mold claims.

A personal injury attorney with experience in mold lawsuits can help you recover your property damage and medical expenses. A personal injury lawyer can also advise you on your toxic mold case and help you recover compensation for your mold injuries.

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